US-Taiwan competition to grant US$250,000 to tech gurus developing tools to counter disinformation

Taiwan on the front line of the disinformation battlefield: AIT Deputy Director Raymond Greene

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Patricia Watts (left), Audrey Tang (center), and Raymond Greene.

Patricia Watts (left), Audrey Tang (center), and Raymond Greene. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A US-led technology competition with a focus on fighting disinformation entered its final round on Wednesday (Feb. 19), with at least one winning team to be chosen on Thursday (Feb. 20) to take home US$250,000 (NT$7,535,999).

“This two-day event is an interdisciplinary approach to convening regional technologists, major tech companies, non-governmental organizations, and the media,” said Raymond Greene, deputy director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). “We hope to build shared awareness of this critical problem, to deploy cutting-edge technology to combat propaganda and disinformation, and to build future resiliency within our communities,” he added.

Seven companies from Taiwan, Australia, and Israel — which were previously selected as finalists in the U.S.-Taiwan Tech Challenge — will demonstrate their tools that can detect fake news and disinformation or conduct fact-checking functions, according to Patricia Watts, a senior official of the U.S. Department of State’s Global Engagement Center, a government agency that handles foreign propaganda and disinformation. Between one and three teams will be chosen as winners on Thursday afternoon (Feb. 20) and awarded a total grant of NT$250,000 by the center, she said.

The deputy director applauded the island nation’s capacity and efforts to counter what he described as China’s ongoing attempts “to weaken Taiwan’s hard-won democracy and freedom.” “China has invested heavily to develop ever-more sophisticated ways to anonymously disseminate disinformation through a number of channels, including social media,” said Greene.

China has been accused of spreading disinformation intended to influence key elections in Taiwan and destabilize Taiwanese society. Even though some malign information has been identified as having originated in China, whether the source of this information is directly linked to Chinese authorities remains a question.

“Taiwan is on the front line of the disinformation battlefield and faces attacks from a very determined opponent,” said Greene, further stating that “The United States and Taiwan are capable and complementary partners in confronting the challenge of disinformation.”

The competition is a government effort to incorporate the segment of the private sector with tech expertise into the fight against disinformation, said Watts. The two-day event also includes talks given by tech companies, NGOs, and media representatives about their experience in dealing with fake news and disinformation.

Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s minister without portfolio specializing in information and technology, emphasized the importance of public-private collaboration on clarifying rumors, conducting fact-checking, and providing solutions to citizens with tech tools. An advocate of transparent governance and open data, Tang served as a coordinator between the government and private sector to develop an online map showing pharmacies across the island and up-to-date data about face mask stocks.